Ricardo Miranda Zúñiga

Structural Patterns

Reflections on Art, Technology and Society

Understanding Media: A Popular Philosophy by Dominic Boyer

without comments

I’m reading Boyer’s Understanding Media book as I do research for a current project. Boyer calls the book an essay and it’s brief and clearly written… Below is a passage about the value of objects produced and distributed in a global market… it doesn’t present anything new, but I like the writing:

Marx recognized that every society at every point in history had some kind of gap between objective value and subjective value and he called this “estrangement.” But he asserted that capitalism, with its central institutions of wage labor and private property, made human estrangement total, since it reduced all or most human activity to activity oriented toward markets and money.

To understand how estrangement connects to the medial, try a small thought experiment. Think about your sneakers or, for that matter, any other thing you use routinely. Subjectively, what makes your sneaker valuable to you is their comfort, their ability to keep your feet dry and protected, and likely also the image or status they convey. But, none of these subjective needs an desires iv you a legitimate claim upon those shoes in a market-oriented society with institutionalized private property. What gives you a claim is your ability to pay their objective, market-determined price. How are you able to earn enough to buy them? ONly through some other kind of activity compensated by money. Does your need for money alter even if you don’t like the activity you specialize in? Sorry, no. But this seems normal since we’re socialized from an early age to feel that it’s impossible or at least very difficult to opt out of the monetary economy altogether.

And what are you really paying for in the price of those sneakers? It would require an enormous amount of detective work to determine that precisely but the answer would be something like: the market-determined costs of materials, labors, rent, management, machinery, storage, transport, advertising and marketing, among other inputs. None of these inputs have anything to do with your subjective need for shoes either, nor do they have much to do with the subjective value of the time and energy invested elsewhere in the making and marketing of those shoes by the suppliers of the raw materials, by the shoe assemblers, perhaps in Indonesia and China, by people involved in freighting the shoes between Asia and North America, by advertisers and marketers and sports-scientists affiliated with the sneaker company and, of course, the salespeople in the store where you purchased them.

At every link in the production chain, subjective values are coordinated by objective value, human interests and idiosyncrasies are converted into an abstract logic and language of supply, demand, price, utility, equivalence, value and so on. One of the key effects of this continuous conversion process is that we can use routine objects like our sneakers with no sense whatsoever of the many human hands that contributed to the production, passage, and marketing of them. And, yet, without those hands, no sneakers; the other side of a complex exchange system of specialized producers is that most of us do not have the time or skill to produce useful things like sneakers for ourselves.

pgs. 33-35

Written by ricardo

June 15th, 2010 at 3:05 pm